A broader perspective on faculty workload

Over the past several months, there have been a number of public statements suggesting that faculty at the University of Wisconsin should have higher teaching loads. These comments often demonstrate a limited understanding of what our faculty here at Madison actually do. It’s our job to better communicate to those outside the university what we do at UW–Madison and how we do it.

At a major research university like UW–Madison, faculty members have two major responsibilities: teaching and research. In addition, because the Wisconsin Idea guides our mission, many of our faculty members engage in outreach and service activities as well. And a number of faculty members also have administrative responsibilities, such as serving as a department chair or research center director.

A study conducted last year gives insight into our faculty workload. Surveying faculty across 10 departments in the biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities, faculty reported 63 hours of work each week on average. According to the survey, 96 percent of faculty work with undergraduates, spending an average of 18.4 hours a week teaching, advising and mentoring them; 97 percent work with graduate, professional and postdoctoral students, spending an average of 16 hours per week teaching, advising and mentoring them. Ninety-nine percent of faculty do work that strengthens the university’s outreach mission, spending an average of 8.7 hours a week on service-related activities.

According to an analysis of our 2,117 faculty members in fall 2013, UW‐Madison faculty funded by state tax dollars taught on average 3.41 classes per week, in addition to time spent working with students individually through independent study and field courses.

At UW–Madison, 100 percent of faculty are expected to conduct research, some of it alongside graduate and undergraduate students, and they spend an average of 21.3 hours per week on research activities. This research is essential to our state economy, bringing in approximately $800 million in outside investment to the state of Wisconsin. UW–Madison’s $1.1 billion in total research expenditures was the fourth highest among all universities nationwide in 2013.

The state funded portion of the faculty payroll in 2013-14 was $186 million. At the same time, expenditures from external sources (including funds raised by faculty in competitions for grant funds) was $643 million. That means for each dollar in state‐funded salary, UW‐Madison faculty bring in $3.50 in funding to support their research, most of which comes from outside Wisconsin. On average UW-Madison faculty members bring in about $250,000 in research funding each year. These research dollars are generally awarded based on a competition for grant money from funding agencies, including the federal government, and foundations. We also have some gifts from private donors that support research, instruction, and outreach.

Competition for research funds is fierce. The National Institutes of Health, for example, funded only 18.1 percent of the proposals it received in 2014. The National Science Foundation funded just 22 percent in 2013. It’s a tribute to the entrepreneurial abilities and the academic reputation of our faculty that they are so successful in competing for these funds. But this requires ongoing time writing grants and monitoring the uses of grant funds. The rules imposed on those with federal grants, for instance, require monthly reporting on time use and close auditing of all expenditures. These are reasonable requirements, but they take time and administrative support to do well.

In many cases, grant funds buy out faculty teaching time, allowing faculty to spend more time on their research. Hence, it shouldn’t be surprising that faculty in the humanities, where there is little external money for research, teach substantially more than faculty in the sciences. For example, faculty in the biological sciences division teach fewer classes, but they bring in the most external funding.

Many faculty members use their research dollars to employ others—undergraduates , graduate students, post-docs, research staff, and administrators who oversee their operations. This is particularly true for faculty who run labs that require multiple people to operate. It’s not inappropriate to think about these faculty as small business owners. They have to continuously raise the money to keep their staff employed. If they choose to leave the university in response to an outside offer – or if they reduced their research and did more teaching – we lose not only the substantive scientific contributions that they are making, but we lose support for our students and staff lose their jobs.

I am more than happy to engage in a discussion about faculty workload, because I know how hard most of our faculty work and how much they contribute. It should also be noted that many of our staff and faculty could be making more in private sector jobs or in other states, but they have chosen to dedicate themselves to public service in Wisconsin.

I want to thank all of our employees for the work that they do every day here at UW-Madison, serving this university and serving the state.